Howard's End by E. M. Forster

First read: 7/04 - 1/05
Reviewed on: 1/5/05
Click here to buy it

I did not like it.
I liked it.
I thought it one of the Best Novels of All Time

So I started this book last July. I had a major book deadline in October and one in December. Oh - and I got married October Ninth, and two months later my beloved was with child. (I haven't told many friends yet, and I just dropped that bomb on you now. The internet is fun). I'm supposed to say, "In short there was not a lot of time for reading" but of course there was. I loved Sock a murder-mystery told from the perspective of a sock monkey, and ... well a whole lot of other books. So I should say I didn't make a lot of time to read Howard's End. I'd read a few chapters, get into it, put it down in the back seat of the car and pick it up months later. It spent some serious time getting to know a deck of playing cards in my backpack. It is on intimate terms with my cat Mikumi's ass. (And since he has no tail, when he lays on you, you are getting pure cat-anus). So this was hardly a page-turner.

In the past few years I've read a few novels about the tribulations of the upper class British trying to marry everyone off. Jane Austen spoiled me; everyone else seems like they are trying to write like her. My favorite of that genre was The House of Mirth, which seemed like a backstage look at those dramas. And, by that logic, Howard's End seemed like a sequel or Homage, where the country houses were getting divided up, the city of London was spreading like a cancer, and poor people could no longer be ignored.

This book was unenjoyable for the most part, but it had some great moments. Poor Leonard Bast - literally. The rich ladies took a liking to this impovershed romantic, and everything they did to help him was so inept that they were like a curse to him. The Bush Family - sorry - the Wilcox family is portrayed as callous and cruel by saying to the sisters, "Leave him alone, you can't help poor people." But Bast would have been much better off if the sisters left him alone. (And his wife would have been much better off if Mr. Wilcox had left her alone.)

Margaret and Helen were the kind of interesting women that D.H. Lawrence would have created if he did not suck. They were distinctive, real, flawed, and when they were annoying, they were honestly annoying. One of the strengths of this book, I thought, was its facing of the difference between the genders. Even when I disagree with Forster, how can you not love writing like, "Are the sexes really races, each with its own code of morality, and their mutual love a mere device of Nature to keep things going?" The book treated the liberal women fairly enough to irk Orrin, I'm sure, and it treated the conservatives fairly enough to irk me.

The main strength of this book is that it was able to surprise even your jaded reviewer. Have you noticed that, with most Classic novels, you can pretty much tell where the story is going to go? Oh, there will be plot twists, but you can tell they are coming, even if you don't know what they are specifically. Not so with this book. For example, at one point a main character drops dead with the suddeness of Sinclair being replaced by Sheridan in season two of Babylon 5. Bam. The novel would start to be a chore and then there would be a Bam and I would get all perked up again.

The other thing is that this book deals with issues that I have been thinking about for awhile. Gender issues, sure, but other ones. For example, I usually get irked when I see some rich and famous celebrity on television whining about how steep is the price of fame. You think I'd hate having those problems? JUST TRY ME! In a country where people give up their lives for the chance of "making it", the winners of the prize have no right to complain that their private beach was painted the wrong shade of pink. So no, I have very little empathy for the people whose lives are so much more worry-free than mine. I am not stressed because I can't figure out whether to go to India or Brazil, I'm stressed because I am 40 and in debt with a baby on the way, and at this rate I will not be able to retire until I am 105. But, of course, there are people who would kill to have my problems, people who can't afford groceries now, and are stressed because they work two jobs and can't get the time off necessary to complete the degree they can't afford. And right now in a hospital in New York there is a cancer patient saying, "I should have such problems."

Why am I thinking about these things now? Because I read people's online journals and I can't ignore these peoples' existence. I read the journal of a woman who is young, beautiful, and probably has more money than I will ever see, and she talks of her problems, and I read journals on the other end as well, and here I am with my angst that I am blessed to be able to afford (financially) to have, and we are all in contact every day. It is an odd thing. And if I find myself sighing at someone who doesn't know whether to have a three-way on the beach or go to France then what must people who work minimum wage think of my worries about whether my book deadline is going to prevent me from taking a nice rest over Spring Break? No conclusions in this paragraph, I'm afraid, but Howard's End dealt with these issues, or at least allowed me to think it did.

Laurel's Grandfather bought property in Northern Minnesota. He built a house, a cabin, and there is a tiny island as well. When he died her mom got the house, her aunt got the cabin, and an uncle got the island. (I think it is an island, I may have this detail wrong. When you are writing Laurel's biography, asterisk this part and fact-check it) Now there is a new generation. Laurel and her 3 siblings will have to work out the house someday, her cousins will have to work out the cabin, etc. Every generation, more people, and the age of a big house, a guest house, an in-law house, and walking 'round property has to go away. Even among the rich people. If Bill Gates winds up with 3 children, then his empire gets divided in 3. If each of them have 4 children, then it gets split 12 ways. Etc. No conclusions in this paragraph, I'm afraid, but again Howard's End dealt with these issues, or at least allowed me to think it did.

Can rich and poor people be friends in real life? Online is one thing, but when I go out with my well-off pal and we go to the type of restaurant he likes to go to, I can't pay. I don't even have anything nice enough to wear. And he doesn't really do the Village Inn anymore. (that's a lie, actually, but I'm not going to let the facts get in the way of my point) And when the L. and I have someone over who doesn't usually go out to eat, ... you get the idea. I'm not articulating this well, but Forster hit this one dead-on. Good writers help you put your own thoughts into focus.

I wish I enjoyed the book more. But I'm glad I read it.

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